Errors in Myers’ Marcellus Shale Groundwater Paper from Start to Finish

Don Siegel, PhD
Professor of Hydrogeology, Syracuse University
Adjunct Professor, SUNY Departments of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Forest Engineering.

Last month, the journal of the National Ground Water Association published a paper by an environmental consultant in Nevada in which the proposition is put forth that the vertical transport of contaminants from the Marcellus Shale formation of southern New York to potable, near-surface aquifers is not only plausible, but likely – brought to us in as few as “three years,” he argues, and all because of hydraulic fracturing.

It’s an explosive thesis, to be sure – but one that’s also fatally flawed; very good news for those of us who actually live here in upstate New York. Predictably, and perhaps as designed, the paper generated a great deal of attention in the press after ProPublica first reported its conclusions on May 1. But as I attempt to explain below, the physical realities governing the hydrodynamic flow of fluids underground can’t be as Dr. Tom Myers, the report’s author, suggests. I say this as someone who has studied the specific hydrogeology of New York for over 30 years. I found a number of fundamental errors in Myers’s model when I gave it a first, cursory review.  Some of the most obvious:

Problem 1: Mistaken Assumptions on Rocks Above Marcellus Shale

Among the most significant errors made by Myers was his assuming most of the deep rocks overlying the Marcellus Shale do not consist of dry, dense shale. As explained in E&E News (subs. req’d) earlier this month by my colleague Terry Engelder, that’s just not true; most of the rock above the Marcellus consists of shale. And since shale can’t pass much water, particularly if it is dry and solid, Myers’ computer model cannot calculate proper water flow conditions.

As Engelder explained, instead of being predominantly sandstone, as in Myers’ model, the overburden contains 90 percent shale and only 10 percent sandstone. If the sandstone were replaced by shale within Myers’ model, the time frame required for water movement to shallow aquifers thousands of feet above the Marcellus would increase to 100,000 years, similar in time to what I found two decades ago when I did my own computer model of deep ground water flow in southwestern NY and northwestern PA.

Because the shale is dense, dry, non-porous rock, companies need to fracture it to begin with; otherwise, there is no way to get the gas out.  Myers also fails to recognize that the brine produced from the Marcellus comes from immediately overlying brine-filled aquifers (also a mile or more deep) into which some of the induced fractures penetrate. This fact is clear from micro-seismicity studies and even more so from the ratios of dissolved elements such as chloride and bromide in the produced fluids. But, there is no local communication of these dense salty water to the surface, because of thick intervening dense and dry rock.

Problem #2: Mistaken Assumptions with Respect to Movement of Groundwater

Appalachian Plateau

It appears Myers does not understand some basic concepts and science behind groundwater movement through sedimentary basins. Water in the Marcellus under the Appalachian Plateau (southern New York and northern Pennsylvania) does not naturally move upward by means of artesian pressure toward the land surface, as Myers assumes.  And because of only this error, his model fails on first principles.

For more than 60 years, hydrogeologists (if not engineers) have understood that groundwater moves in nested flow systems; regional, intermediate, and local in size. The Appalachian Plateau topographically constitutes the regional replenishment area for long flow paths of deep brines all the way to Lake Ontario, but only along a few focused and rare deep fault systems. It takes hundreds of thousands of years for water to make this journey, if not much longer. The shallow groundwater system from which people get their drinking water on the Appalachian Plateau occurs within the upper 1000 feet (usually far shallower), ubiquitously separated by thousands of feet of dense dry rock, mostly shale, from the deep basin salt waters at the depth of the Marcellus. This understanding of groundwater moving in sedimentary basins has been so well established that every modern hydrogeology textbook produced over the past five decades contains it.

I know of no instance of deep groundwater on the Appalachian Plateau moving upward under artesian pressure toward the land surface, except in glacial cut valleys that penetrate through this thickness. Period. And I’ve see a lot of water level measurement on the Plateau over the years, both in New York and in Pennsylvania.

Problem #3: Assumed Fracture-lengths Wildly Exaggerated

Myers suggests that faults or fissures opened by hydraulic fracturing can and will move dense formation water (flowback and produced waters) upward for 1 to 2 miles into shallow, potable waters. It’s an assertion that’s not grounded in either science or experience.

Indeed, there are fractures at shallow depths (generally no deeper than 600 feet) that produce modest groundwater volumes for individual homes and farms.  But these fractures pinch off at depths greater than a few thousand feet.  If they did not, natural gas in the Marcellus Shale would have escaped naturally long before now. Because the shale compacts under the weight of all the overlying rocks, oil and gas firms need to use sand to prop fractures open to create the conduits necessary for the hydrocarbon to flow to the wellbore. Despite this basic fact, Myers appears to be arguing that new fractures in the Marcellus can be opened naturally by the very low energies created from hydraulic fracturing,  and then stay open through more than a mile or more of rock that largely consists of shale, even without the introduction of proppant to keep them open. The suggestion is absurd.

Myers also fails to recognize that dense produced waters cannot move upward easily into fresh water because they are, well, dense.  For decades, hydrologists using MODFLOW (the model Myers used) have incorporated a mathematical correction called  “effective freshwater head” in their modeling when large salinity differences occur.  Myers assumes the brines in the Marcellus have all the same density as the dilute freshwater at the top. This makes no sense for what he was trying to test.  Indeed, it is extraordinarily implausible (bordering on impossible) to imagine brines moving locally upward into fresh water aquifers owing to the density differences. In contrast, it is easy to move brines downward into fresh water because they weigh more than the fresh water.

Conclusion

More than anything else, the public needs to know that a mathematical model of groundwater flow, such as the one prepared by Myers, constitutes only a representation of reality—it is not reality itself. Before any math model can be built, a scientifically plausible conceptual model needs to be developed.

As it relates to this particular paper, Myers has developed an implausible model that predictably leads to implausible, and in my judgment, completely wrong results — from simple first principles of geologic and hydrologic understanding, let alone acceptable model development.

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Comments

  1. susan dorsey says:

    Don,
    your explanation sounds a lot like the ideas represented in the powerpoint presentation from Penn State that tries to relate the physical impossibilities of frac fluid contaminating the aquifer.

    http://jlcny.org/site/attachments/article/293/Groudwater%20Protection%20Council%20Presentation%20by%20Terry%20Engelder.pdf

    Granted that I only have the slides from the powerpoint, and not a presenter here to offer commentary, explanations and answer questions. I was able to follow it rather loosely.

    Still, I must say your concise rebuttal of Myers work was much easier for a lay person to follow regarding the nature of the many layers of the earth below us, and between our Marcellus gas resource and our drinking water. Thanks for taking the time.

  2. Scott Cline says:

    Thanks for your comments Dr. Siegel. This stuff of Myers is simply a regurgitation of the scurrilous work he did for NRDC in 2009 comments to the SGEIS. In addition to the points you make, his other major flaws are twofold.

    First of all, even though the Marcellus has low permeability, the surface area of up to 60 million square feet created by the fracture stimulation is so large that with even with a few inches of penetration a large amount of the fracture fluid is imbibed and trapped by capillary forces forever. The rest of the fluid follows the pressure gradient to the wellbore sink through the fracture system and up to the surface through the protected wellbore and is no threat to the groundwater.

    I have previously published the explanation of these effects in great detail and presented at EPA and IOGANY. No reservoir simulation with realistic geologic and reservoir properties could reproduce Dr. Myers’s fiction. Dr. Myers work does not even deserve Media attention. He obviously has no basic understanding of fluid flow in a hydrocarbon system under pressure flowing to a wellbore. End of Story!

  3. Scott Cline says:

    And furthermore Dr. Myers uses the simplistic hydrological Modflow to model his absurd assumptions. Maybe he should try using the more applicable reservoir simulation models such as Eclipse. Unfortunately that would require knowledge of inputs and fluid flow forces in a complex hydrocarbon system with actual wellbore and pressure-volume-temperature inputs far more advanced than Dr. Myers has ever known.

    This farce of Dr. Myers is simply the latest in the long list of science fiction perpetrated on the populace from non-experts posing as authorities and funded by political rather than objective scientific societies.

  4. This came across to me as being a thoughtful, fact-based assessment of the assumptions of Myers’s paper. Any thoughts on how the paper made it through the peer-review process if it had such fundamental flaws? I understand that the journal enjoys a good reputation. Will Dr. Seigel be submitting his commentary to the journal, as is normally the practice? – Ken Klemow (SUNY-ESF ’82).

    • Scott Cline says:

      I think the peer review process has broken down in terms of evaluating model inputs and the expertise of the peer group to even evaluate the inputs. Yes the models may be run correctly but if garbage is input the output is still garbage.

      Two other egregious peer reviewed papers illustrate the point: The Howarth and Ingraffea methane green house gas study and the Duke study supposedly linking increased methane to proximity to natural gas wells in PA. Both studies have been soundly debunked in subsequent studies by both industry and non-industry research groups.

      In the Howarth study the authors made the unforgivable assumption of comparing natural gas and coal on simply an energy equivalent basis rather than on a comparison through the likely end use: electrical generation. Methane leakage was also grossly overstated. The study was debunked by many other groups including Carnegie Mellon, DOE and even collogues at Cornell.

      The Duke study likewise failed on several levels including the fact that no baseline data was used and the inexcusable mistake in accurate methane fingerprinting where the authors did not understand the similarity of the fingerprint with shallow Devonian sources shales and thus assumed it was Marcellus gas. It was not Marcellus gas! EPA made a similar amateur mistake in Parker County, TX recently and had to retract their accusations against Range resources.

      Clearly the Myers study takes even these peer reviewed examples to the exponent of absurdity.

      • Concerned Scientist says:

        Thanks for pointing out just how bad the Duke study was. It was not nearly as bad as the Myers paper. It is probably bad science instead of fake science. But there are what appear to be serious shenanigans with cherry picking of data in that paper to get the desired result. It’s terrible to see science politicized like this by people who should know better

        • My colleagues and I reviewed the Duke paper last summer, and issued a commentary of both its strengths and limitations. The link to that commentary is at http://energy.wilkes.edu/PDFFiles/IEER.Commentary/IEER.Osborn.Commentary.pdf. We were more charitable to the Duke researchers than you seem to be. No science is perfect, and the Duke study at least got the conversation going. Most areas of scientific inquiry get their start from seminal articles that have some limitations that other scientists seek to capitalize on with additional research. I would put the Duke study in that category.

          As for your comment on cherry-picking, it goes both ways. Unfortunately, we are to the point where shale gas proponents routinely denigrate the opponents as being hysterical fear-mongerers, while the opponents criticize the industry and its supporters as being greedy polluters. Unfortunately, too many people are swayed by personal attacks – making such attacks an effective means of debate. As a result, we don’t have productive discourse capable of effectively addressing issues, but mindless name-calling and innuendo that produce more heat than light. Somehow, this has to stop and all parties need to be more respectful of each other. See http://energy.wilkes.edu/PDFFiles/Klemow.Frontiers.essay.pdf for more on this.

          • Concerned Scientist says:

            The Duke team cherry picked the data. That isn’t name-calling. It’s an accurate description of what they did.

            Their big conclusions was that water wells within a km of a gas well (called active wells) had 17-times more methane in them than water wells more than a km from a gas well. (called inactive wells).

            The Duke team sampled 60 water wells for methane but then dropped 26 of them without comment and used the other 34 to come up with their “17-times greater” number. Table 1 of that paper shows 21 “active” wells and 13 “nonactive” wells. Why were 26 wells dropped? Did they show something that the authors did not want to show? Like high methane in nonactive wells or low methane in active wells?

            8 of the nonactive wells used to calculate this ratio were from around a Utica well in NY with only one active well there. The active well actually had slightly lower methane content. So 8 of the 13 wells called nonactive came from an area 100 km from where most of the active wells came from in an area with totally different bedrock geology and little or no naturally occurring methane in the groundwater.

            Many of the “active” wells came from Dimock – an area known to have a problem with methane contamination. So many of the active wells are from an area that has been in the news as having methane contamination and 60% of the nonactive wells are from an area 100km away.

            All of this is called “cherry-picking” of data. when one picks the data one wants and then drops the data one doesn’t want we call this cherry-picking. It is just an accurate description of what they did. It isn’t name-calling.

          • It’s name-calling when you imply that it was done in bad faith. As you must know, a scientist’s most prized asset is his/her reputation. When somebody alleges that a scientist is acting in bad faith, that is a particularly serious accusation.

            Do you have evidence that the Duke researchers ignored data that they purposefully wanted to hide? If so, you have the ethical responsibility to provide your evidence to the journal, so that the authors can defend themselves, and the journal can decide whether to take action on the paper. Have you done that yet?

            Of course, if the authors simply missed data because they were not aware, or the data were not made available to them, it is now your turn to submit a manuscript that tells a more complete story. That’s how science works.

          • Concerned Scientist says:

            Is there a reason you are defending this paper? It is dreadful and has really led people down the wrong path.

            The paper says that they sampled 60 wells for methane and then they only used 34 for the table in which they calculated the 17-times greater number. Do you have any thoughts on why they would drop 26 of the wells without comment? The scientist in me wants to know why data is dropped without comment. Especially when a ratio of the remaining data is the point of the paper. What would the ratio have been if all of the data were included? Isn’t part of you curious as to why this was done?

            How would you assess their choice to use many wells from the Dimock area for “active” active wells and 8/13 of their nonactive wells (62%) from around a single well in NY that clearly had no methane contamination problems? Does this not seem like someone trying to pick data to get a certain result? It is like trying to compare airline safety records and insisting on using all the crashes from one airline and all the safe flights from another airline and then comparing the two. Is this how you would have done it if you were really after the truth and not seeking a certain outcome? I suppose there is a chance that they are just really poor scientists, but I have to think that to get a job at Duke and make it into the National Academy you probably have to have something on the ball.

            Here is the truth about methane contamination. There is a lot of naturally occurring thermogenic as well as biogenic methane in shallow sandstones and in the aquifers in NE PA. Many water wells have methane in them that is naturally occurring. It appears that wells in valleys are more likely to have higher concentrations of naturally occurring methane than wells on topographic highs. Methane levels are also higher when the ground is frozen than when it is thawed. They make no mention of this naturally occurring thermogenic methane in their paper. So some methane is naturally occurring.

            Well drilling can also lead to methane contamination. Gas wells, water wells, geothermal wells all could cause a problem. Methane leaks out from the shallow sandstone formations (thousands of feet above the Marcellus) and if there is a poor cement job it moves up behind the casing and gets in the aquifer where it could cause methane contamination of water wells. This has happened in <<1% of the Marcellus wells in that area. there is no systematic contamination as suggested in this paper. And it has nothing to do with fracking or shale gas other than that is what they happened to be drilling for. It is also improving with time although there still are cases every now and then.

            Any study of methane contamination must include pre-drill testing done in similar conditions to post-drill testing. The Duke paper did not have that, and that alone disqualifies it as anything useful in the discussion of methane contamination. But the authors apparently didn't know anything about the local geology, naturally occurring thermogenic methane, well drilling or most of the things they should have known about before they wrote the paper.

            All of this could have been learned by the Duke authors if they took an hour to talk to the PA DEP prior to publishing the paper. It was a bad paper with a misleading title, and data that was selected to get a headline-grabbing result. Which it certainly did. Dr Jackson was on NPR and got many OP-EDs out of the paper and it is frequently held up by anti-shale gas activists as "proof" that fracking systematically contaminates groundwater.

          • Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I appreciate the points that you made in your fourth and fifth paragraphs. They are consistent with what I am hearing from other sources.

            I am not defending the Duke paper, and am troubled that you are misconstruing my comments in that direction. PLEASE read the commentary that my colleagues and I authored last year, in which we pointed to both the strengths and limitations of their work.

            The scientific literature is filled with papers that have shortcomings. One of the basic skills that a budding scientist learns in graduate school – and increasingly as an undergraduate – is the ability to take a paper and analyze it for strong and weak points. So being able to find flaws in the Duke study is no big deal. FWIW, I do like the Molofsky et al. paper that asserts a relationship between topographic elevation and methane concentration, though I see flaws in data presentation that I would have insisted be corrected had I been a reviewer. We can pursue that off-line if you want.

            The key point is that I am not willing to accuse the Duke researchers of any purposeful malfeasance, because – as stated in my previous post – that is serious stuff. I do know Rob Jackson and Avner Vengosh personally, and view them as being excellent scientists. So they published a paper that painted a incomplete picture of the relationship between gas drilling and the presence of methane in water wells. At least they brought the issue to people’s attention, and will hopefully spawn a series of additional studies that will get us to the point of understanding exactly what’s going on.

            As noted in my “cherry-picking” article, the fact that opponents to drilling seized on the Duke paper as a reason to call for a ban on hydrofracking is equally irresponsible. The authors made clear that they did not find a link between hydrofracking and water pollution. I don’t think that people are being misled by the Duke study, as much as they are irresponsibly hijacking science to feed their bias. Sadly, it happens on both sides.

            If you are really bothered as to why the Duke team dropped 26 wells without comment, you always can contact Rob Jackson or Avner Vengosh for an explanation. If they don’t reply to your satisfaction, and you sincerely believe that they engaged in FRAUD / or even “shenanigans” (as opposed to imperfect science), bring your evidence to the journal and demand that they conduct an investigation. Then the authors can explain their rationale. Anonymously posting innuendo in blogs impedes, rather than enhances, productive communication.

            And, hopefully, you can contribute the results of your own studies to the discussion.

          • Concerned Scientist says:

            Thank you for your thoughtful email. Your voice is important and I appreciate those trying to find middle ground.

            The link to your discussion of the Duke paper is broken.

            I’d still like to hear from you what you think as a scientist about Duke dropping almost half their data without comment. I’d also like to know what you think about biased sampling around Dimock where there was a known problem for the “active” wells and then having 62% of the nonactive wells used to calculate the ratio >100km away around a single Utica well in NY. Is this the way you would have done it if you wanted the truth and not a certain outcome?

            I would also point out that Jackson is accepting funds from the Park Foundation which funds Josh Fox, Robert Howarth, Tom Myers and pretty much anyone who opposes shale gas. That doesn’t look good to me. It sure adds to the suspicion that they selected data to get a desired result.

          • Thanks. Sometimes trying to take the middle ground can be very lonely. I wish others could join me.

            Apologies for the broken link. Here is the correct URL: http://energy.wilkes.edu/PDFFiles/IEER%20Commentary/IEER.Osborn.Commentary.pdf. I tested it, and it should work. Again, please read what we wrote. It went through a lot of drafts before we released it.

            As noted in our commentary, we had issues with their sampling and recognized that they presented a subset of their data. We see that issue of one of several shortcomings. But again, because we were not looking for a “certain outcome,” we were still able to take those limitations in context and derive value from the article. Also, I see the shortcomings of the article as rationale for doing more research. Hopefully, you feel the same way.

            I’m always interested that people don’t make more of the scatter in the methane concentrations in water wells close to gas wells in their Figure 3. The fact that some wells in proximity had low concentrations, and some had high, is important. Based on the paper by Molofsky et al., one can surmise that the difference may be due to elevation of the water wells.

            Regarding the funding issue, again that comes across as being more innuendo. Where would you like to see funding for Marcellus research come from? Lots of people worry about industry funding (see the recent uproar over the Considine study). And some even think that government should not fund research. I’d like to hear your take – as a fellow scientist – how we fund the research in a way that neither the industry proponents, nor the industry opponents, can claim is tainted.

            Others can join in.

          • Concerned Scientist says:

            Thanks for your comments. You are much more tolerant and kind-hearted than I am. I look at the way that data was (mis?)used and who is funding their operations and I can’t help but make the connection.

            I’d say that I would be equally mistrusting of reports that are funded by industry or by environmental groups if the results serve the goals of the group that funded it. If Jackson uses his new Park Foundation money and comes up with what Penn State came up with or what the PA DEP came up with then I will be the first to applaud him as showing integrity. If he comes up with more sloppy papers that look like this and come up with a fracking contaminates groundwater in a systematic way story my suspicions will be confirmed.

            I think the government should fund the research. Period. You will never have a complete lack of bias but this is as close as it will get on the funding side.

          • Thanks. I don’t know if kind-hearted is truly apt. Instead, I know the value that we scientists place on our reputation, and it would take a lot to get me to the point of accusing a colleague of acting in bad faith. My experience is that most other scientists share that philosophy. But bad stuff does happen, and that is why journals retract papers – usually with a lot of fanfare.

            You gave one scenario. Let me pose another. What if Jackson et al. took Park money, did a sound study, and found that there was indeed some level of contamination of groundwater by shale gas development? Could you accept that? Again, I’m not presupposing that’s the case. But a hallmark of being an objective scientist is to be able to change one’s opinion when confronted with compelling evidence.

            Last year, I was engaged in a conversation with an activist who has a bachelor’s degree in a scientific discipline. That person was convinced that shale development will inevitably lead to water pollution. I asked whether she could ever accept any studies that demonstrated it could be done safely, and she replied “no.” I then asked whether she could accept the outcome if she did the study herself. The answer was that she would need the advice of the anti-drilling group she belonged to.

            The point is that people have their minds made up on both sides of the issue, and – in many cases – our opinions are reinforced by the people who we choose to associate with. With increasing frequency, people react to science that disagrees with their position by immediately attacking the scientists, the funding organization, the journal, the peer-review process, and anything else they can do to discredit the message and the messenger. How do we fix this?

          • Concerned Scientist says:

            It’s a good question. I distrust papers funded by the Heartland Institute on climate change. I distrust papers funded by creationists on evolution. And I distrust papers funded by anti-shale gas activists on shale gas. Any paper funded by the gas industry also has a strike against it for that matter. They have an interest in a certain outcome – just like the Park Foundation. It is a strike against them in all cases. But if there weren’t such obvious holes in this paper – such a clear skewing of the data toward an outcome, I would take it seriously. I was impressed that they stated in the paper than no frack fluids were found in any of the wells (even though that result was minimized to two sentences and the more sensationalist methane story was given top billing). But they could have not mentioned it at all and I give them credit for that.

          • Thanks. I would agree with you on the first two, especially since their “science” can’t get past peer review. But for articles that do pass peer review, I’d personally rate my level of concern as being more akin to healthy skepticism rather than outright opposition. My experience is that the mainstream scientific journals steadfastly seek to maintain their reputations as being sources of trustworthy information.

            Again, if you have profound issues with the way that Osborn et al. handled their data, please, please, please write to the authors for an explanation. By publicly implying that they behaved in an unethical manner without outright proof, your statements can be interpreted as libelous.

            I fully agree with you that government should be the primary source of funding for research. Sadly, there are powerful forces who seek to reduce – and ultimately eliminate – the role government in funding research. Those of us concerned with the integrity of research must aggressively and effectively counter those forces.

            As a final point regarding the Duke study, the November / December 2011 issue of the Duke Magazine carried a fascinating exchange between Aubrey McClendon (Chesapeake CEO and Duke alumnus) and Drs. Vengosh and Jackson. I thought that Vengosh and Jackson effectively handled various assertions made by McClendon. Their final statement “Shale gas development may bring prosperity and provide unique opportunities in the U.S.; our goal is to make it as safe and clean as possible. That is our only agenda.” was significant in my mind.

  5. At this point I’m starting to really wonder how much organizations like NRDC and the Sierra Club even care about natural gas drilling. Faux studies like this that they know damn well won’t hold up to real peer review can only be meant to grab headlines for a week, ratchet up the fear level, and correspondingly drum up donations. Reprehensible.

  6. Concerned Scientist says:

    Fantastic post.

    More mistaken assumptions:

    The paper suggests something like 7-9% fracture porosity (!). That is 100 times greater than the actual likely fracture porosity which is probably less than 0.1%.

    The paper suggests constant pressure upward on the fluids even after the well has started to flow back. Of course once the well starts producing all fluids will flow toward the well, not upward. This alone kills the entire idea. There is only upward pressure during the frac job itself which lasts about a day.

    The Marcellus Shale is also extremely dry and much of the fluid is probably absorbed or “imbibed” by the formation. Once that fluid has been absorbed it probably won’t move for millions of years.

    It’s beyond terrible. It isn’t even bad science. It is “fake science” through and through. No difference between this and creation science.

    • Bill Ferullo says:

      Also just another theory !

      • Tom Shepstone says:

        When you’re guy is proven wrong, it was just a theory. I see.

      • Concerned Scientist says:

        Sounds exactly like a creation scientist! Evolution is just a theory!

        This sort of undermining of science will not lead to anything good.

  7. Bill Ferullo says:

    Your ‘s is just another theory Just like the one from Dr.Myers, both are just the view from one side or the other !You can only theorize this and can not guarantee that you are 100% correct in your assumption and Dr. Myers is 100 % wrong in his and you know this !There are always variables in all situations and especially all theories !Also there has always been two schools of thought on everything since the beginning of time .Only time will tell an hopefully Dr Myers is totally wrong and you are totally right because not like an experiment in a lab we can not undo what will be done if you are wrong….!

    • Tom Shepstone says:

      Facts are facts, Bill, and Myers is simply spinning them at the behest of the Park Foundation.

      • Bill Ferullo says:

        Tom Don Siegel’s comment is only theory ,not facts .Don’t base facts on theories .Both these men have their own views and neither one is scientific fact !Lets not try to state that these are facts on what is not really known here,OK !

        • Tom Shepstone says:

          Sorry, Bill, that rationalization doesn’t work for me.

          • Bill Ferullo says:

            Nothing would work for you !

          • Tom Shepstone says:

            No, I think it’s the other way around Bill!

      • Bill Ferullo says:

        And you and all the pro gassers here never spin any of your information .Come on give me a break ….!Tom you and your followers here only think you know what ‘s going on ,but know what you really don’t !

        • Tom Shepstone says:

          Well, that settles it.

    • JD Krohn says:

      It’s interesting the logic you employ to hold up Myers. It involves you basically ignoring science, history and known geological mechanics. That’s fine of course, but the idea that what you just said has any merit to anyone other than yourself is laughable.

  8. Concerned Scientist says:

    What do you think of Howarth et al? They too made a series of sloppy mistakes and omissions that all ended up leading to the Park Foundation’s desired outcome that shale gas and hydraulic fracturing are bad. And Howarth and Ingraffea are major anti-shale gas activists. Do you also view these as innocent mistakes? How about the Myers paper that is the topic of this post? More innocent mistakes that happened to lead to the Park Foundation’s desired outcome?

    The peer review process failed in all three of these papers – Howarth et al, Osborn et al and Myers. They chose reviewers who didn’t know enough about the topic or who were activists themselves. They need to always include people who know something about oil and gas drilling, hydraulic fracturing and subsurface geology. I’d say these papers have done much to damage my view of the peer review process. I actually now find myself being much more skeptical about conventional wisdom on global warming – even though I am quite familiar with the science and have always trusted . But I now have to listen when skeptics scoff at the peer review process. I still think it is real but am much more skeptical than I was because I know how badly the peer review process can fail now.

    • Yikes!! I’m surprised that others are not telling us to knock it off already. Or perhaps nobody else is paying attention to this exchange.

      Regarding Howarth, we have that covered as well: http://energy.wilkes.edu/PDFFiles/Reports/IEER.GHG.3R.pdf. The essay is a bit dated because we don’t include Howarth’s response to his critics. The short and skinny is that, from my perspective, that line of inquiry is in desperate need of some real data. All of the authors agree that more field-based measurements of methane emissions are needed. My colleagues and I at IEER would love to purchase some LiCor devices to measure methane flux. But we don’t have the funding to make the purchase and do the unbiased science to provide such data. But we are looking…

      Regarding Myers, I have glanced through the paper but need to sit with it more. The problem is that I am a plant ecologist, and am not adept as interpreting hydrogeological models. So I rely on my geologist colleagues and trusted online commentary to help me out. As noted much earlier, I enjoyed Dr. Siegel’s post, and had one personal colleague indicate that he agrees with Siegel. But I had another colleague send me a very long, technically detailed email explaining his support for Myers’s paper, and an equally long follow-up filled with innuendo against Dr. Siegel. So I will need to digest those mixed messages before developing a personal opinion on the Myers paper. Frankly, I’d like to get Myers, Siegel, Ingraffea, and Engelder in the same room and don’t let them out until they develop a joint document as to: (1) what we know about the potential of hydrofracking to contaminate groundwater, (2) what we don’t know about that topic, (3) what studies would be needed to address the gaps, (4) how to fund such research from sources that nobody can criticize, and (5) how we communicate scientific knowledge to stakeholders that have their minds made up, and are unable to accept any information that disagrees with their own positions. Think NSF would fund something like that?

      Regarding your concerns over peer review, I agree that journals should farm out articles to knowledgeable scientists – including those from industry. So your course of action is obvious: email the editors of journals that might carry articles relating to potential impacts of shale gas development, provide them your credentials, and say that you want to serve as a reviewer. Let us all know what happens.

      • Nicole Jacobs says:

        We’re reading the whole thing, Ken. And I have absolutely been enjoying the exchange.

  9. Concerned Scientist says:

    Nice job on the Howarth analysis. This is a great service you are doing. As you point out the biggest problem with the Howarth et al analysis is that they stopped the analysis short of combustion to make electricity. That is where most of the savings come with gas. Natural gas plants are up to twice as efficient as coal plants (particularly new gas plants vs old coal plants). That was a little sleight of hand as it was not that clear in the text that they were doing that. His defense of this was a rather weak “most gas is not used to generate electricity.” This is true, but almost all coal is used to make electricity and that is the market where they directly compete. If gas displaces coal it will do so to make electricity. I would guess that if gas heat and heat produced by coal-fired electricity were compared that gas heat would be even more than twice as clean.

    The other problem is that Wigley paper. What is not made clear in that paper that the same model would show that the temperatures would continue to rise until 2060 if coal were replaced by nothing at all. If they simply stopped burning coal and replaced it with nothing, temperatures would continue to rise because of the decrease in aerosols (which block incoming solar radiation and reflect it back into space before it enters the lower atmosphere). So this is not a problem with natural gas. It’s a problem with coal. the sooner we get off coal the better from a climate perspective.

    The Myers paper is so bad – it is not even an attempt at real science. It is the equivalent of this from a scientific perspective:

    http://creation.com/age-of-the-earth

    Whoever is telling you this is a good analysis can’t be trusted. It’s a new low.
    Don Siegel takes no money from industry and has no skin in the game. He just can’t stand bad science or the politicization of science. Neither can I.

    • Thanks. I’m glad you liked our summary and synthesis of the fugitive methane story. As noted, it is outdated because it does not include Howarth’s response to his critics, which came out earlier this year. Interestingly, I have heard complaints that his critics are supported by industry or by the Sierra Club, which had its own ties to certain gas companies. Also, I do appreciate your thoughts on the Wigley paper – they complement feedback that I have heard from others.

      I do expect to work with my colleagues to produce syntheses (like the greenhouse gas emissions essay) on other topics. At this point, we will likely be releasing something on radioactivity soon, and we may want to tackle groundwater impacts afterwards. Any recommendations from you or others would be appreciated.

      • Concerned Scientist says:

        The radioactivity story is pretty much a non-issue made up by ProPublica and the NYT. There is no risk to drinking water supplies. The very very slight risk would be in places where scale might build up in pipes and tanks. But even then I read that you would have to basically be touching it for a year to have it be the equivalent of an x-ray.

        Did you see this study?

        http://www.chk.com/News/Articles/Documents/20120529_CHK_WestonStudy_BradfordPA.pdf.

        Pretty much identical to the Penn State results but even more wells. Fracking for shale gas doesn’t contaminate groundwater. That much seems abundantly clear. Spills on the surface, very rare cases of methane migration related to drilling not fracking are the only real issues with groundwater.

        Here are the real issues where activists who truly want a cleaner environment should focus their energy:

        1. Support shale gas development – even as it is done today its the best news we’ve had on the environmental front in many years
        2. Fight for strong casing and cement regulations
        3. Fight for use of temporary pipelines to move water around and avoid truck trips
        4. Fight for natural gas-powered equipment to be used for drilling and fracking operations
        5. Fight to absolutely minimize methane emissions (even though most companies are already doing this)
        6. Fight for siting wells in places they can’t be seen and having as few well pads as possible (one every two square miles?)
        7. Fight to get all power generation switched to natural gas and while fighting to build renewables as fast as possible
        8. Fight for 100% recycling of wastewater wherever possible
        9. Fight misinformation on the environmental side – those who would ban fracking would be committing us to the absolute worst case scenario for global warming and other pollution

        Good luck

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